Reel to Real

‘The Batman’ is definitely worth seeing; ‘Licorice Pizza’ is so unfocused and random

“The Batman” (Rated T)

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Paul Dano, Colin Farrell, Andy Serkis

Genre: Action/ Adventure

Where to watch: In theaters

Dwight’s Rating: 3 stars

An earthquake!

That’s about the only disaster that doesn’t befall the citizens of Gotham City – which is, by all accounts over these 80-plus years since we were first introduced to the home of the Caped Crusader, quite possibly the worst city in the world that’s not currently in the middle of a war.

Not a war with tanks and missiles, at least. But there is certainly a type of war plaguing that city; crime and corruption are out of control. And it’s really, really bad.

Bad, bad, bad!

Like it’s so bad, Director Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, “War of the Planet of the Apes”), who co-wrote along with screenwriter Peter Craig (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay”), have decided that in this 12 millionth reboot of the Batman film series, they needed to throw every single thing in here, just so you couldn’t possibly think “well, this place ain’t so bad”, or that someone is exaggerating the situation.

As such, “The Batman” is stuffed to the gills with it all – everything except an earthquake. But there is a life-threatening catastrophe.

And there’s bad guys, armed robbers, mobsters, explosions, gangsters, gun violence, hostage situations, thugs, crooked cops, psychopaths, car chases, armed robbers, bad guys, and also some bad guys.

And all of that ends up in a stupendously long three-hour affair.

Three whole hours – (well, two hours and 56 minutes, to be extremely exact!) – of a story that at its core is very familiar to most of its viewers.

Despite all this – and my goodness, it’s a lot – “The Batman” is definitely worth seeing, and without a doubt, the first must-see movie of 2022! It quite effectively mines the very best from the great multitudes that have come before and that’s made Batman special and the true rockstar of the DC Comics franchise.

In this new film, Batman ventures into Gotham City’s underworld when a sadistic killer, The Riddler, leaves behind a trail of cryptic clues. As the evidence begins to lead closer to home and the scale of the perpetrator’s plans become clear, he must forge new relationships, unmask the culprit, and bring justice to the abuse of power and corruption that has long plagued the metropolis.

The character Batman was an early star of DC when it literally stood for Detective Comics. And its heart, this “The Batman” is a classic detective story, in a true neo-noir style, reminiscent of when the Caped Crusader rose to prominence in the 1940s. As such, we see him “sleuthing” around in the shadows and other dimly-lit locales, solving clues and mysteries.

The whole picture is as dark and brooding as Batman/Bruce Wayne. It feels most like the wonderful and underrated “Gotham” (2014-2019) TV series, with similar sly and dark humor, the seedy underworld and the ever-hopeless GCPD. And fans of any number of the many animated Batman series over the past few years will also see similarities. Thankfully, though, there is not the complete sense of despair we got with the classic “The Dark Knight”.

There are some fresh perspectives. Batman, when in Bruce Wayne form, looks and acts like a goth teen (or a grown version of those emo kids, for my fellow “South Park” fans). While both are usually moody and aloof, he’s been portrayed as a slightly older man on film versions in recent years.

This, and portrayer Robert Pattinson (“Twilight”), presents quite a pleasant and refreshing surprise, and should allay fears of diehard Batman fans who were worried that Edward the Vampire would ruin everything, like he did Bella’s life.

Pattinson’s Batman is actually far less cartoony than some recent … um …“Batmen”(?) And his chemistry with the rest of cast is outstanding, particularly with the always amazing Jeffrey Wright (HBO’s “Westworld”) as detective James Gordon.

And then there’s Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Her performance will henceforth serve quite possibly as the definitive portrayal of Catwoman! Yes, that’s what I’m saying; Kravitz is the very best Catwoman ever!

Plus, Andy Serkis, the greatest performance capture actor in history is here as Alfred and showing his true face, and playing an actual human for a change! Not like when he was not Sméagol/Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, or Caesar for the “Planet of the Apes” franchise, or King Kong from the 2005 version of that eponymous film. What a rare treat!

And Colin Farrell is in this movie. Not until the credits did I realize who, when, where and how. All I can say is WOW!

So yes, “The Batman” is like a buffet feast at the end of the year, perhaps Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. There are too many options, most of them carbs that will weigh you down and leave you bloated and lethargic, and some of which you really could do without. (Like, seriously, why is that on your plate? You don’t even eat that!)

But even as you struggle to get up from the dining room table after you’re done, you don’t have too many regrets, and you’re prepared to do it all over again next year.

Let’s just hope we don’t have to spend so many hours at the table next time. And that there still is not an earthquake!

“Licorice Pizza” (Rated T)

Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Bradley Cooper

Genre: Romance/Comedy-Drama

Where to watch: Video on demand

Dwight’s Rating: 2 stars

What is this? And why am I here?

Two questions running through my head on repeat throughout the entire length of “Licorice Pizza”.

But how can this be? Everyone seems to be raving about this. Isn’t it nominated for three awards, including Best Picture at next weekend’s Oscars? What am I missing?

Well, “Licorice Pizza” is simply this year’s “La La Land”. For certain people, it’s going to touch them on a level for which everyone else can only dream for a film to get that close. And for the other folks, it’s a big “What The …?”

And while there are some occasional glimpses of comedic genius, most of the time, this feels like outbursts from someone violently awakened from a deep sleep.

Nonsensical, almost idiotic vignettes strung together ever so loosely. And “vignettes” is my word, because these are no vignettes. It’s all one story, but it’s so unfocused and random, that they might as well be.

Set in the 1970s, Alana Kane and Gary Valentine grow up, run around, and fall in love in California’s San Fernando Valley.

There’s about a 10-year age difference between the two characters, with Alana being the older one at 25. Yes, that’s right!

Everybody involved – the actors – the characters, the extras, the furniture – seem to be having the time of their lives. But it’s nowhere near as funny as they believe, and it’s too goofy to be classified as a drama. And if this is romance, well, oh my!

The best part of the film is the Alana character played by Alana Haim, who delivers a star-making performance. Haim, who along with her real-life sisters is part of the rock band Haim, is a delight (her entire real-life family are in the cast playing her family too). Hopefully this will not be the last time we see Haim acting on the big screen.

Cooper Hoffman, who plays Gary, shows he has inherited some of his late father Philip Seymour Hoffman’s acting genes, and is definitely someone to watch.

But these two can’t make the rest of the film feel cohesive for more than just a few minutes.

Apparently, the name “Licorice Pizza” refers to how some in the ‘70s nicknamed vinyl records. Ok. Sure!

Perhaps one needs to consume copious amounts of licorice on pizza (or some other things popular in the 1970s) to truly appreciate it.

• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.

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Dwight Strachan

Dwight is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff.

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